Chiang Mai was good to us. This northern city in Thailand has an impressive and welcoming expat community already established and we quickly fell into a rhythm of work and play.
Chiang Mai itself has a comfortable balance of old and new. There’s Nimman Road and its eponymous neighbourhood, which is dotted with glossy condos with rooftop pools, cute glass-front boutiques as well as MAYA, a massive shopping mall. It feels Western, if that’s the vibe you’re looking for, and I’ll be honest, we ate some delicious pizza here that rivals any pie we’ve had elsewhere in the world.
But take a 15 minute walk (or a 10 minute taxi ride) and you’re in Old Town, the ancient part of the city that’s still sectioned off from the rest of the urban sprawl by a moat and brick walls along all four sides. The streets are narrow and winding, with endless shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and more to explore.
Chiang Mai is also home to over 300 temples and the monks that serve there, too, so there’s always some incredibly old, beautiful and intricate piece of history to distract yourself with when your eyes are glossy and fingers stiff from hammering away on your laptop for too many hours in a row.
Still, it’s not all perfect. There are two downsides to Chiang Mai, and the majority of digital nomads we connected with agreed: there’s no beach or water anywhere nearby, which is kind of a bummer, and second, February through April is burning season, so most people leave because of the awful air quality.
We spent all of February and the beginning of March in Chiang Mai and burning season is no joke. Schools were cancelled at times due to the smoke, and many locals wears face masks when they have to go outside, especially to commute or exercise. The expats who choose to stay use air purifiers in their apartments to clean the dirty air.
Still, despite those two blips, Chiang Mai, Thailand, remains a digital nomad hot spot. As the first city on our six-month, multi-city exploration of Southeast Asia, we found it difficult to leave. Here’s why Chiany Mai is a digital nomad paradise.
What’s the wifi like in Chiang Mai?
A fast and reliable internet connection in Chiang Mai is as common as a $2 plate of freshly fried basil rice. It’s everywhere. In addition to the plethora of coffee shops catering to the laptop crowd, restaurants from large establishments to family-run hole-in-the-walls advertise wifi as if its a menu item. Even spots that don’t have a wifi sign hanging near the entrance will often write down a network and password on a paper and bring it to your table the moment they spot an open laptop.
I should probably point out here that when we work from restaurants and coffee shops for long periods of time, we spend our money accordingly. We’re conscious not to over stay our welcome, often ordering multiple round of smoothies or meals. If the place is filling up with folks looking to dine and we’re occupying a table that’s in need, we’ll move on, but in Chiang Mai, that never happened.
Cool coffee shops to work from in Chiang Mai
There’s no shortage of spots to whip out your laptop in Chiang Mai. All of the cafes and coffee shops in town were welcoming of digital nomads. Not once did we feel out of place with our laptops out. Here are some of the coolest coffee shops we worked from in Chiang Mai:
Nine One Coffee
Not only does Nine One Coffee in Nimman have great wifi, but there’s comfy seating both inside and out, and they offer a variety of non-caffeinated drinks like mint and lime soda. The staff are friendly and welcome remote workers.
My Secret Cafe in Town
This spot is hardly a secret. When we worked from My Secret Cafe in Town, which is in the centre of Old Town, every person sitting both inside and out was armed with a laptop. There were meetings taking place, people coding, others designing… our table of three was writing. It was like a co-working space that also happened to serve delicious sandwiches and teas.
The space is beautifully decorated, there’s good lighting and ample seating that’s conducive to getting things checked off a to-do list.
Thai people love their cats. Even if you’re not a fan of felines, you’ll appreciate the charming covered garden patio and the 16 cats that call it home, slinking to and fro, stopping to accept a pat from a tourist as they please.
The wifi is reliable and quick, and we worked from here on several occasions. The fruit and yogurt bowl is a winner and the ginger tea is steeped to perfection. Mint and basil soda is another winner. Cats Station is tucked down a laneway in the southwest corner of Old Town next to a massage shop (which we also took advantage of) that’s run by the same folks.
2 C’s Sons
This family-run joint is down a small roadway that overlooks a wat in the southern end of Old Town. It looks unassuming from the outside with a small patio and a few bar seats that overlook the laneway, but the fried basil and rice was the best I’ve had in Thailand. It’s quiet and a great place to open your laptop. They serve both beer and smoothies, and the prices are incredibly affordable at $2 a dish.
Cheap digital nomad accommodations in Chiang Mai
There’s something for every budget in Chiang Mai. Many digital nomads who are planning to stay a month or more will rent an apartment and Airbnb is the best way to find a comfortable and secure spot. Some landlords might be willing to offer deep discounts on rent the longer you stay, so it’s worth reaching out to multiple listings and asking about monthly rates rather than a few days at a time.
If you want some built-in friends, homestays are an amazing way to save money and get some little comforts of home, too. Many homestays have private rooms and private bathrooms, but always make sure you read the listing, if privacy is important to you. Lots of homestays include breakfast in the nightly rate, too, as well as things like daily bottled water and usually come with a common areas for working, reading or relaxing.
We stayed at a number of them, but Sirikamsan, located by the South Gates of Old Town, was one of our favourites. We stayed in the Japanese Room and it was cozy, quiet, wildly affordable and had a little terrace out front.
Have you been to Chiang Mai as a traveller or a digital nomad? Let us know your favourite places to work, play and stay below.